Why You Need Flexibility to Control Your Life?
Feeling that you control your life is a source of happiness and well-being.
But you also want the flexibility to balance the rigidity of control.
Most people want to have some level of control in their lives. In one extreme if you just let go, you might feel that you are the victim of life happening to you. At the other end of the spectrum, trying to control everything you are bound to fail as there will always be small deviations that you can not correct for.
How to improve your life by finding a balance between control and flexibility?
What is Your Current Reality?
First, you should have an understanding of reality. I will not go too deep into what reality is. For our purpose, the reality is some objective state of affairs that most people can agree upon. Reality should be detached from emotion and treated as a simple collection of facts. Some examples of questions about reality:
- Is your weight going up or down?
- Are you on track for that big project?
- Is your income enough for a new home?
If you have a firm grip on reality, then you are off to a good start to influence the outcomes you wish to achieve. Reality doesn’t care what you think about it, but if you don’t care about reality, then you may end up with a lot less influence over your environment and people around you.
The Limits of Control
When creating a plan, you must also understand that:
- your vision may be infinite, but
- your means are finite.
Understand the limits of your control, don’t worry about the things you can’t control and focus on the things you can influence. When you realize that our sphere of influence is not only finite but actually quite small, then you can relax about the things out of your control.
As you start to control your life, you must understand that there are two main ways to get to the results. First, there’s the control most people directly associated with the word control. You have a plan, and you see it through step by step.
Every deviation is a source of inconvenience and a potential source of frustration. If the times are calm and the task at hand is not too complex this type of control works pretty well. A trip to a shopping mall. Cleaning your room or a house. You allow for some deviation, but in general, there’s a routine you expect to follow without a hitch.
When things get more complex, this model breaks down. The model cannot cope with the myriad of variables changing the initial assumptions. Uncertainty is the weak part of the step-by-step plans and how-to guides.
Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t. ~ Steve Maraboli
Now, think about how you want things to be. To get out of the fixed control model, it would be much more effective to focus on the result and the “why” of your activities. Why are you doing this? What result should your actions bring about?
Tight control is the opposite of flexibility.
Combining that with a narrow comfort zone is a recipe for disaster. If you try to control everything, you lose all flexibility, and this will decrease your overall happiness in life.
Uncertainty and Flexibility
Relaxing your grip on things brings you to flexibility and chaos.
As long as you have the result in sight and have the meaningful “why” to back it up the path to the goal may vary. When looking at the situation ahead of you, open and flexible thinking is the key. You will find more opportunities and different paths to achieve the goals you want. You may need more mental resources and feel less than “being in control,” but the potential for better outcomes is vastly greater.
Constantly test the boundaries of your comfort zone, as this is the only place where you learn and grow.
If you only do the things where you are in full control, then you stagnate, and your area of control shrinks.
You have to decide how much flexibility do you want in your life.
To be in hell is to drift; to be in heaven is to steer. ~ George Bernard Shaw
The flexible approach of why of the situation also makes us think in higher categories than the how of direct control mindset. Research has shown that thinking in higher categories will also increase your willpower.
When planning assume optimism bias, try to set the goals that most advance your overall well-being and happiness. First, answer the why-question and then go into the more detailed planning of how you are going to get there. After the “why”, find the hows but do not limit yourself with a fixed set of tactics, remain as flexible as you can.
In the end, control is an illusion.
A big part of our achievements is based on luck and favorable circumstances. On the other hand, this can also be said about our failures. You think you are rational and control your life, but we can achieve that only by being more flexible in the situations that matter and can be influenced.
Ignore the rest.
Here are the steps to control your life
Putting it all together into an actionable plan is what gives you a feeling of control. Of course, you have to start to execute the plan, or you won’t feel the structure it brings into your life.
Get a grip on reality
How to get a grip on your life?
Ask yourself the hard questions and answer them honestly. If you are procrastinating then lay out the real reasons behind your reluctance to do what you need.
Understand why you want something
Reason or “why” you want to do it. What are the most important things in life for you. If you have a strong enough “why” then you are more motivated. There may be responsibilities that you have to do, the tasks you have to do for work or school. Add a strong “why” in the form of avoiding the negative outcome and motivate yourself with that. You can always motivate yourself with taking the task as an exercise to strengthen your willpower.
Plan the initial how and contingency
Get very clear what the next step will be. Deconstruct your task so that your first step takes 30 minutes or even less. Also, make a plan what you will do when you can’t do the planned step. For example, if you can’t make it to the gym, do push-ups and squats for 20 minutes. Every time you complete a step, set the time for the next actionable step.
Be flexible, accept whatever comes
There will always be obstacles. When the situation changes then you adjust the plan. No plan is perfect, and you need to steer constantly to get to the result you are after.
No plan survives contact with the enemy. ~ Helmuth von Moltke the Elder
Give it your best and improvise
Sometimes you give it your best effort and still come up short. All anyone can ever ask from you is to give it your best effort. Maybe you need to put in more hours? But sometimes your 100% is not enough, and you need to reevaluate the reality of the situation.
Improvise, find new ways to do what you need to do. Combine different tools, find out what other people have done to get the results you are after.
In many cases, 30-day challenges are a good tool. By the end of the 30 days, you will have a much clearer understanding of what it takes to achieve your goal or build a new habit. You will also know if you are willing to pay the price to get it.
Your responsibility is not to slack off and put in the 100%. When something is not working, it’s always a good rule of thumb to assume that you are doing something wrong. Blaming weather, traffic, or the hard life you have is not going to move you closer to your goals.
Learn from experience
Learn what is working and what you should avoid. Understand what are the temptations and detractors that derail you. Build your routines so that you can avoid most of the things that may lead to failure.
Every time you do something you win some or learn some.
Planning your life with reality in mind
One example of balancing control and flexibility is planning your day.
Let’s say your workday is 8 hours long and with breaks you want to get it over with from 8AM to 5PM.
If you think that you can put in 8 hours of solid work into your day, then you may be surprised. Throughout the day other people will make your schedule slip. Instead of working 60 minutes on a presentation you take 5 minutes to answer a colleague’s question. After that, it takes you 10 minutes to get back on track. So, you only work 45 minutes on that task.
There are countless interruptions and uncertainties in our lives.
If you think you can control your environment, then you’ll end up with unrealistic expectations, and your results will slip.
It doesn’t matter if it’s work or life
The above example was about your work. But the same applies to your family life and time off. Consider what level of control you have when you try to get on a plane with three kids in a rush hour.
Your plans will shatter if you don’t allow for some buffer time. When you go to the airport, the traffic jam may take half an hour from your time. Your kid leaves a passport at the gate, and you have to convince the security to let you get it.
Never book your time full minute by minute. Anxiety and stress will follow.
You only have control over three things in your life – the thoughts you think, the images you visualize, and the actions your take. ~ Jack Canfield
Buffer your activities
One of the best scheduling ideas I have heard is based on the critical chain and more importantly buffering the tasks that you have in that chain.
First, consider how much time each activity you have in your chain would take if everything went perfectly.
Next, sum up all the times and then add a buffer of 50 percent of the total time.
The key is to have a buffer that is separate from specific tasks.
For example, let’s say that you have the following tasks:
- Order an Uber 10 minutes
- Get to the airport 35 minutes
- Get through security 20 minutes
- Get to the gate 15 minutes
In total it should take you 1 hour and 20 minutes to get on the plane. Now add 50% or 40 minutes of buffer to it. Now you have 2 hours to get to your plane.
The key is to sum the buffer of all tasks. If you add 50% of buffer to ordering the Uber, then you can easily lose more than 5 minutes if something goes wrong, and your schedule starts to shift. However, you have only used a small fraction of your total 50%-buffer.
You will almost always use some of the buffer. If you do this correctly, then you calculate the best-case scenario times for tasks. Best-case scenarios rarely work out.
Expect to use one third to a half of the buffer.
You rarely use up all your buffer. Small tasks help to fill the time you have left. Let’s say everything goes smoothly and you don’t have to use the buffer then move on to a next item that you can fit in the time you now have.
Read, meditate, relax, do push-ups, walk, talk to your partner, learn something.
Now, be water, my friend.